Tennis Prose



Watching Stepanek Practice Today at IMG

By Scoop Malinowski

Though it was a Sunday, Radek Stepanek trained today at IMG Academy.

The 38 year old who turned pro in 1995 walked on the the court at 11 am. He did an extensive warmup with a lot of agility and flexibility exercises.

One man observing the court commented, “Hey Radek how do you stay in such great shape?” Stepanek responded with a smile, “Young girlfriends.”

Eventually Stepanek started to hit with Christian Harrison. They did normal baseline hitting and then volleys and overheads. Then they took a break and Pat Harrison (father of Christian and Ryan), who was also on the court (and seems to be the main pro coach now at IMG) asked Stepanek what he wanted to do next. The former ATP no. 8 ranked player (in 2006) replied that he wanted to be fed balls and hit inside out forehands at an orange cone target.

Stepanek and Harrison alternated hitting about ten of fifteen consecutive inside-out forehands fed by Harrison from the opposite baseline. Then after inside out forehands, Stepanek wanted to hit inside-in forehands up the line. Again it was ten to fifteen balls, then Harrison would go.

Harrison converted every single forehand up the line and Stepanek gave him a fist bump for doing a good job.

The two professionals, nearly two decades apart in age, chatted during breaks at the changeover chairs. Stepanek also offered advices to Harrison during the drill work but I couldn’t hear what he said exactly.

After this break, Stepanek then announced that he wanted Pat Harrison to feed balls to the middle of the court range and his part of the drill was to hit alternating inside-out and then inside-in forehands, basically a combination of the previous drill. But Stepanek also requested for Harrison to vary the feed balls -“You can change up the speeds.”

The interesting observation about Stepanek doing all these drills was that he grunted on every single ball. You could feel his still burning passion and love of playing professional tennis and also the love and passion for training to get ready for the next season, which is still over a month away. Harrison was just about equally intense but his grunts were nearly silent. Stepanek was putting every ounce of his energy, spirit and greatness into EVERY SINGLE BALL he hit.

About two or three dozen people watched Stepanek train today for about an hour. Then after the hitting on court, Stepanek departed the court, with his physio coach, for a cardio session at the indoor gymnasium, politely turning down my request to ask him a few questions about “Facing Andy Murray” which will be my next (sixth tennis) book. “Sorry, I’m right in the middle of practice.”

Earlier this year, Stepanek said he was planning on playing another three years. After an injury hiatus last year, Stepanek returned to full time play again this year and raised his ranking up to 107 with a pretty solid season. Stepanek posted an overall 10-10 record on the ATP Tour this year, including a pair of three-set wins against Taylor Fritz at Rome and Madrid qualifying, as well as a two sets to love lead against Murray at Roland Garros (which he ultimately lost in five sets). Stepanek’s best win of the year was a straight set triumph over Marin Cilic at the Mercedes Cup this summer in Germany.

You can be sure some more big wins are ahead in 2017 for the extremely hard working and dedicated Radek Stepanek.



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  • Dan Markowitz · December 4, 2016 at 7:25 pm


    Nice piece on Step. That’s a great line–and so Step-like–to say young girlfriends keep him young. Gotta love the Step-man. Can you just walk onto the IMG Academy and watch the practices?

    Heading to Florida at end of the month for 4 days of tennis with Callum. I’m trying to put him in the Canas Tennis Academy in Aventura (I think). If not, might go up to Plantation and Nick Saviano’s place, but that’s a bit of a drive from Miami.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 4, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    IMG Academy is open to the public for Eddie Herr this week but normally it is closed to public for security reasons. There is a guard at the front and rear gates. I have a media credential to enter the facility whenever. I might meet up with you at Canas as I need to interview Guillermo for Facing Andy Murray.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 4, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Be a pleasure, Scoop. imagine steeping on the court with big Guillermo. Last time I saw him–I think with you at Delray–he was huge, just ballooned up, but I hear he’s a top coach for technique.

    Watched ToJo tonight just rip Phillipoussis in IPTL. Tojo had a few extra lbs on him, but his slice serve out wide on deuce court and his backhand were insane. Best backhand I’ve even seen practically, Philly was at his mercy.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 5, 2016 at 7:41 am

    T Jo wins the Australian Open and he’s practically forgotten – he looked very good vs Flip despite the belly – Johansson was the original Wawrinka – Johansson Johanssoned Safin 🙂 How about Hingis beating Flipkens in the singles – Hingis usually always loses all her singles in recent years in exos and Fed Cup –

  • Hartt · December 5, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Stepanek’s strong desire to play well at age 38 is impressive. Regarding the young girlfriends remark, on another site we have a running joke about how the WTA players have to steer clear of Stepanek. He does seem to have a way with the ladies!

  • catherine bell · December 5, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Hartt –

    WTA players should have learned their collective lesson by now or be pretty desperate.

    Careers do not go well for those who step out with Stepanek 🙂

  • Hartt · December 5, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Catherine, only too true! 🙂

    And those Czech WTA players in particular need to stay clear and keep on winning!

  • Dan Markowitz · December 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    They can’t resist the Step-meister. Look at that pale white skin, the hairy chest, the pouty lips. Steppy is the new Spadea.

  • Jg · December 5, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Love how step is on his toes in the picture, something Scoop pointed out I should do more.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 5, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    jg: Step has more intensity and passion in a Sunday practice than Spadea had in any match his entire career – Dan’s gonna refute that observation I’m sure 🙂

  • Jg · December 5, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    Watching Goran playing in IPTL, he still has a world class serve, just saw him hit an ace to the add court, totally untouchable whoever is on the other side.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 5, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    I like Robbie Koenig last night saying about a Philly serve, “That one’s not coming back.”

  • Hartt · December 6, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    In an interview with Goran at the IPTL he was asked what he would like to accomplish with Berdych. Goran immediately talked about changes to Berdy’s serve. If I were Berdy, would definitely listen! Goran also said he would like Berdy to come in more. At age 31, I think, can Berdy make these changes?

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 6, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Goran could be a super coach though an underrated one – Not sure Cilic wins the US Open without Goran – Goran with Berdych is a very interesting combination – Berdych is a similar player to Cilic – Berdych leads the head to head 6-5 but Cilic has won 3 of the last four – a lot of close battles these two slugger have had –



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